Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Inner Thoughts From the Inner Tube Comedienne

When you’re a nobody in show business, you can try to tackle any role. Once you’re a somebody, especially after a monster hit, the audience has pretty well decided what role they’ll accept you in.

Here’s a good example. Can you picture the title role in “The Diary of Anne Frank,” the story of the girl from Holland killed by the Nazis, played by Ruth Buzzi? Yes, that Ruth Buzzi. And I’m not talking about some send-up on “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In,” with Ruth as spinster Gladys Ormphby yucking it up with Arte Johnson’s uniformed Nazi.

See how audiences stereotype performers?

Buzzi probably wouldn’t consider herself an overnight success on “Laugh-In,” but the show cascaded with such instant force on the television audience of 1968 it overshadowed everything the cast members had done before. In Buzzi’s case, if you had tuned in on the right episode early in the run of “That Girl,” you would have caught her. Before that, she landed the role of Granny Goodwitch in the 1964 cartoon series “Linus the Lionhearted.” But before that, Ruth Buzzi played the most famous teenaged victim of the Holocaust as a teenaged actress hoping to break into show business.

In 1957, the 20-year-old Buzzi was an unknown, appearing in summer stock in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Albuquerque Tribune decided the story of an aspiring actress might make good copy on the Women’s Page. Here’s the story it published on July 13, 1957. Her comments are refreshing to read, full of youth and hope.

Actress Got Comedy Start in Fanny Dances
By NANCY ROBINSON

Buzzin’ Ruth Buzzi from Wequetequock, Conn., is one of those people who bubble with all the vim, and vitality that life has to offer.
She and three other actors from the Pasadena Playhouse are here for the Little Theater productions of “Janus,” “The Fourposter,” “Pappa Is All,” and “Wedding Breakfast.” The latter opened the summer stock season.
Miss Buzzi says she has to be busy or buzzin’ to be happy. And she’s a snappy brunette who can put her friends, or her audience, in stitches by a flip of her clever tongue or a contortion of her pretty face.
“Ever since I was in eighth grade, I wanted to be a comedienne,” she said in an interview. “But I didn’t want to tell anybody.”
Dancing Student
She had been taking ballet and tap lessons from the time she was a second grader, but “somehow I just wasn’t as good as the rest.” But in the eighth grade, she got the chance to do “funny dances”—take-offs on ballets and contemporary dances—and it was right then and there that she found her niche.
Yes, Miss Buzzi does want to be a comedienne, but along with that ambition she doesn’t want to be typed as such.
“I’d rather become a dramatic actress first .... because I hope to act in both types of roles. That is why I admire Alec Guiness so much . . . he is accepted in serious or funny parts.”
The 5'3" actress of Italian descent is the daughter of one of the leading stone sculptors in the United States. A monument maker chiefly, he has done many famous carvings on government buildings and memorials in Washington, D. C.
High School Cheerleader
“None of my family has ever been in the theater—but they could have been. They are quite talented . . . all of them,” she said. Her recently married brother Harold plays the accordion, and her 11-year-old brother Eddie plays saxophone.
“My parents are behind me all the way in this career—they are just grand,” she added.
Miss Buzzi, who will be 21 July 24, went to high school in Pawcatuck, Conn., where she was active in 4-H, the cheerleading squad and the dramatics club. “I learned to cook and sew... I really like to,” she declared.
Immediately after high school, the went to the Pasadena Playhouse. She was graduated in June.
Enjoys Music, Painting
When she has some spare time, she finds an outlet in the expression of two other talents: piano and painting.
She said she’s enjoying her stay in Albuquerque. “It’s just like a vacation,” she said. “The other day we were learning our lines as we floated in rubber inner tubes in the motel swimming pool!”
“When I go back to California (Hollywood) this summer, I’m going to take singing lessons. Not that I can sing—only that I think it will help my voice. And someday . . . maybe ... I’d like to do musical comedies.”
Hers [sic] first dramatic part was Belinda Pryde in “Ramshackle Inn.” She was in high school at the time.
Plays with Vallee
Since then, she has played Emily Kimbrough in “Our Hearts Were Young and Gay,” Ann in “The Diary of Ann Franck,” [sic] Louka in “Arms and the Man,” the shop lifter in “The Detective Story,” the TB patient in “Bury the Dead” and the countess in “Cherry Orchard.”
She likes the part of Emily Kimbrough the best, for she says, “It’s just me all over!”
Her biggest thrill came last winter at school when she played opposite Rudy Vallee in “Jenny Kissed Me.” The show ran six weeks at the playhouse and then went to the Geary Theater and the Curran Theater in San Francisco.
“Oh, I’ve also played the witch in Macbeth!” she exclaimed. “Somehow, I usually get character parts, and I dearly love to play them.” Does she have a boy friend?
“No, I’ve got several!” Seriously, she thinks marriage would be fine in six or seven years. ... and her only comment was a twinkling, “Whoever gets me gets the stage.”


Ruth Buzzi was very funny on “Laugh-In.” But the show soon wore out its catchphrases and its welcome. Buzzi survived rather nicely afterward because she was very funny wherever she went. She was in demand on variety shows (until they, too, petered out), cartoons and children’s TV. Today, She writes on Twitter: “I'm happily retired from showbiz; enjoying our cats, horses, cows, and the cowboy lifestyle in beautiful north Texas with my husband!” It’s not quite what she expected when she surveyed her future from an inner tube in a motel swimming pool in Albuquerque 56 years ago. And it’s a loss for her fans who enjoy her comedic talents. But there are a few things about a performer’s life that an audience can’t control.

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